GROPING FOR A DRUG PLAN THAT WILL WORK
The NBA last week imposed a lifetime ban on New Jersey Nets guard Micheal Ray Richardson after he tested positive for cocaine, indicating his third lapse into drug use in 29 months. Richardson, whose drug problems had taken him in and out of at least four rehabilitation centers over the last three years, was not expected to appeal the ban, which was automatic under the NBA's 1983 antidrug program but could be rescinded after two years under certain conditions. In another antidrug action, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth conditionally suspended 11 players implicated in last summer's drug trials in Pittsburgh and established a limited antidrug program for the major leagues based on confidential testing and rehabilitative care by independent medical experts.
Unlike the NBA's antidrug program, the one announced by Ueberroth was not established with the approval of the sport's Players Association. His plan shifts control of drug testing from individual teams to the commissioner's office and involves testing only those ballplayers who have testing clauses in their contracts and certain others with histories of drug use. Players testing positive for any of four illicit substances (cocaine, heroin, morphine or marijuana) will be offered medical treatment, though the fate of repeat or uncooperative offenders is unclear.
Of more immediate interest was Ueberroth's handling of 23 current or former players who admitted to drug use or were named as drug users at the Pittsburgh trials. Ueberroth could simply have suspended them all unconditionally. Among others, Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Jerry Martin, Steve Howe and Vida Blue have all been suspended in the past by baseball for drug-related reasons, as have John Drew in the NBA (he was hit with a lifetime ban last winter but by then was already out of the league); Don Murdoch and Ric Nattress in the NHL; and at least six NFL players.
But Ueberroth said he felt that suspensions alone have not proved an effective deterrent to drug use. Having interviewed all but one of the Pittsburgh 23 this winter (former player John Milner refused to talk), Ueberroth decided to divide the players into three groups: Those in Group A, the most serious offenders (Joaquin Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeff Leonard, Dave Parker and Lonnie Smith), were said to have been involved in both a "prolonged pattern of drug use" and in facilitating the distribution of drugs to others in the sport. Ueberroth suspended them all for one year but said he would hold the suspensions in abeyance if the players agreed to donate 10% of their 1986 base salaries to a drug-treatment facility or program in the city in which they play, perform a minimum of 100 hours of drug-related community service for each of the next two years and agree to random drug testing for the rest of their playing careers.
Players in Group B (Al Holland, Lee Lacy, Lary Sorensen and Claudell Washington), who Ueberroth said had "engaged in more limited use or involvement with drugs," were told they face 60-day suspensions unless they donate 5% of their salaries to a drug program, do 50 hours of community service and agree to be tested. Group C players (Blue, Dusty Baker, Gary Matthews, Manny Sarmiento, Derrel Thomas, Dickie Noles, Daryl Sconiers, Rod Scurry, Tim Raines and Alan Wiggins), those for whom "little or no evidence of drug involvement exists or whose cases have already been handled through other procedures," will simply be required to submit to testing. Milner, until he agrees to meet with Ueberroth, will be banned from any association with baseball.
Hernandez, whose base salary is the highest among the affected players (his 10% donation would be a hefty, though tax-deductible, $135,000), said he would file a grievance. Players Association director Don Fehr, who according to Ueberroth was regularly consulted during the planning stages of the program, said his office would review the penalties before formally reacting.
Some critics outside the union said that the commissioner had been too lenient. Others challenged his long-range drug program on several counts. It is vague on questions of enforcement, for one thing, and by no means comprehensive; abuse of alcohol, amphetamines and anabolic steroids is not addressed. But Ueberroth, stating that his objective was to "get people help" rather than punish, said the plan reflects "the combined best knowledge of what will work and what will not."
Finding something that works is a matter of continuing urgency. The problem isn't confined to the NBA and major league baseball, either. Last week The Boston Globe's Will McDonough reported that the NFL tested 350 top college prospects for drug use at a recent scouting camp. Shockingly, the league found that 57 of them (16%) had either marijuana, cocaine or other drugs in their systems.
NO SNOW JOB
There is concern that the Olympic Alpine courses at the Mt. Allan ski hill outside Calgary are toothless. To find ways to make them more fearsome, the International Ski Federation asked the organizers of the '88 Games to hold world-class races this winter. But those competitions, scheduled for last weekend, had to be canceled. The scrubbing pointed to another criticism of Mt. Allan: It's often snowless.
"This has got nothing to do with snow," said Alberta recreation and parks minister Peter Trynchy. "It has to do with the equipment." He was referring to the new $5 million snowmaking system that hasn't yet worked properly. It's good that Trynchy explained things, because from the look of Mt. Allan, tanned and basking in 50° weather, it certainly appeared that the problem had something to do with snow.
Now Mt. Allan's only major test before the Games will be pre-Olympic competitions to be held next February.
JACQUES PLANTE: 1929-86
Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante, who died last week at age 57, was a man of restless, creative energy. A seven-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie and a linchpin of Montreal's five straight Stanley Cup championships between 1956 and 1960, Plante was nothing if not innovative: He introduced the first plastic goalie mask in 1959 and popularized such goaltending techniques as roaming outside the crease and stopping the puck behind his own net to hold it for a teammate. To work off the tensions of his job, he cooked, painted landscapes and knitted—both stocking caps and his own long underwear.
He could cook up a pretty good excuse now and then, too. Because of his lifelong problem with asthma (it forced him to switch from defenseman to goalie early on), Plante always claimed he couldn't stay in a certain Toronto hotel because it bothered his breathing. Some suspected he just wanted to be out from under the scrutiny of the coaching staff. Once, after spending a night in Boston, Plante told his coach he wanted to move out of the team's hotel. "We thought you were only allergic to Toronto," said his coach.
"Well," replied Plante, making a quick save, "I dreamed I was in Toronto."
No American has won the world surfing championship since the pro tour was established in 1976, but California Tommy Curren (SI, July 8, 1985) now seems certain to do just that. With only the circuit's four Australian events remaining—the first one this week in Burleigh Heads, the last on April 6-13 in Sydney—Curren, who has won four of 15 competitions this season, is far ahead of his nearest competitor, Barton Lynch. And in the past two seasons he has achieved five of his 13 career wins Down Under. "If Tom stays consistent," says pro-tour spokesman Al Hunt, "he's got it sewn up."
OF DOUGHNUTS AND HOTDOGS
We told you last week about the dangers faced by sports in our increasingly litigious age. One response to the insurance crisis, of course, is to make sports safer. Some baseball people are seeking to do just that. Instead of those weighted rubber "doughnuts" that add heft to a bat in the on-deck circle, more teams will now be using heavy bats custom-made for on-deck swinging. That should mollify owners worried that a flying doughnut might injure a fan in the box seats.
In another strike for safety, the St. Louis Cardinals, convinced that a healthy franchise depends upon a healthy Ozzie Smith, have announced that the acrobatic shortstop will no longer be allowed to perform his crowd-pleasing backflips as he takes the field. The Cards, fearing a flip might turn into a flop, ruled against fun.
THEY SAID IT
•Wayne Gretzky on fighting: "Sometimes people ask, 'Are hockey fights for real?' I say, 'If they weren't, I'd get in more of them.' "
•Greg Booker, San Diego pitcher, on the Padres' 5'7", 160-pound second-base prospect, Leon (Bip) Roberts: "We have baked potatoes back in North Carolina that are bigger than him."
•Jack Hartman, announcing his retirement as Kansas State basketball coach after 16 years: "Coaching is all I've ever done. I've never had a real job."